Flüssiges Brot is one of the terms Germans use to describe beer. (liquid bread) And for the most part, beer is very much like bread. When it comes to freshness, most beers are intended to be consumed as soon as possible after they are made. Just like bread, fresh is better. Once the brewer filters and packages his/her beer, it will only diminish over time. Even some bottle-conditioned beers are intended to be drank immediately. One example I can think of is Hefeweizen. Weißbier yeast are very temperamental and definitely change the character of the beer over time. When a Weißbier brewer distributes his/her beer, it is at its peak and intended to be promptly enjoyed.
With all of that said, there are some beers that benefit from aging. Some are even intended to be “laid down.” Most examples of this fall into the category of very strong bottle-conditioned ales. Unpasteurized, bottle-conditioned beers are still alive, and the yeast will continue to slowly work away for years when subjected to the proper conditions. And the character of the beer will continue to change over time. When aging a beer, just make sure not to store it too cold. My basement fluctuates seasonally between 58 and 65 degrees, which is about perfect. A cool, stable temperature like this is ideal.
My friend Chris Cross and I brewed a strong ale in November of 1998 to be consumed at the turn of the millennium called, appropriately, Millennium Ale. Over time that beer matured in a similar manner to the Harvest Ale. The older it got the more the yeast slowly added character to the spirit - with almost the same pungent raisin character. We did enjoy this beer on 1/1/2000, but we also hid a number of these bottles away. When the beer was over six years old I entered it in the AHA Nationals and it took first place in our region. Now we will usually open one bottle per year at the New Years gathering hosted by Joycelyn and I. Currently I only have one bottle left – so I have a big decision to make this year.
To sum up, don’t be afraid to lay down some of these strong, bottle-conditioned ales. There are many styles now from England, Belgium and right here in the U.S. that are well suited for this treatment. And take notes so you can track how these beers mature over the years.